Florida father frustrated after 7-year-old with autism unknowingly leaves school, walks home alone

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A Lakeland parent said he sends his son to school everyday in fear something terrible is going to happen. Sean Freyer contacted 8 On Your Side upset over several incidents involving his autistic 7-year old son, Tyler, who attends the Valley View Elementary School.

Freyer said they moved this year so he had to transfer to the school, and that’s when things started going wrong.

“He did great last year in his classrooms,” the dad told 8 On Your Side. “His day was split between a normal classroom and one to meet his needs. The kids in the normal classroom were more open to accepting him.”

Fryer said because of his son’s autism, he can easily be triggered. “He acts on impulses,” the dad said.

Freyer claims his episodes have dramatically increased since he has been in his new classroom.

“There is 11 kids in this class, and to be honest, I don’t think the ESOL teacher is capable of handling him. He will get overstimulated. The only way for him to calm himself down is to remove himself from the situation. So a lot of times that means him running out of the classroom,” he said. “I’m concerned because no one is running after him. His ESOL teacher actually said to me, ‘I’m not going to chase him,’” the dad said.

That’s a big concern for Freyer. “What if he runs out one of these days and something happens to him? I feel like I am failing my son as a parent by not protecting him,” he said.

Things escalated on April 1 when his son walked home from school, crossing 540 A and other busy streets along the way.

“They knew he has been attending an after-school program. But, my 7-year-old autistic son was somehow allowed to walk home by himself. The principal seemed shocked by a phone call at 3:30 p.m. when my son arrived home. She said she had no idea he walked home. If I had been off that day, and no one was home, it would have been after 6 before we knew Tyler wasn’t at his after-school program. He could have been kidnapped or killed,” Freyer said, in tears.

The dad told 8 On Your Side he has contacted the school for three months trying to get action, but after several meetings, he feels he hasn’t gotten any help.

“The school district has refused to properly meet his needs,” said Freyer, who wants the district to transfer his son to another classroom. “This teacher hasn’t even been reprimanded for allowing him to walk home.”

8 On Your Side contacted the Polk County School District. Board member Hazel Sellers oversees that particular portion of the district. She was reluctant to talk about any particular student.

“I was briefed on the matter, and I am told it is being handled. We might not be able to do exactly what the parents want because of money constraints, or other legal constraints, but for the most part, in my experience, our district responds and does everything they can,” Sellers said.

“When children have to cross busy roads, there’s a few people there to assist them with crossing,” she added. “I would say anytime special needs children, in any case, I see our district trying to put every effort into making sure that every child is safe.”

Freyer said after 8 On Your Side contacted the district, he was contacted by a representative with the school. He is still not sure what will be done but is hopeful his son will be able to switch schools.

We also called the Polk County School District: An official emailed this statement:

“Polk County Public Schools cares about the concerns of parents and students. Our centers of learning, including Valleyview Elementary, respond to concerns, and attempt to work with parents and students to resolve them.

Due to laws regarding the confidentiality of student records, we cannot discuss matters related to specific students and how situations involving specific students are being addressed.

However, school and district staff member are willing to discuss with parents and guardians how situations are being addressed as well as transfer options that may be available to them.”

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